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Review: ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande

being mortal by atul gawandeEarlier this week, a friend and I went to see Still Alice, a movie about a 50 year old linguistic professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Alice, played by Julianne Moore, tries to manage her disease as long as she can, but eventually can’t be left alone. In one of many heartbreaking scenes, her husband and children sit at the kitchen table, trying to decide who can care for Alice while Alice sits almost unknowingly on the couch, unable to make decisions for herself any longer or even understand the decisions her family was trying to make.

As I sat, crying, for most of the end of this movie, I couldn’t help but think about some of the issues that Atul Gawande brought up in his most recent book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, which I’d just finished reading.

Talking about death or debilitating illness is one of the most difficult conversations to have, but it may be one of the most important. In Being Mortal Gawande explores this challenging topic, looking at our modern experience of mortality and how modern medicine can and cannot address this time in our lives (emphasis mine):

You don’t have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine failed the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions – nursing homes and intensive care units – where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life. Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need. Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to their very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology and strangers.

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february 2015 reading wrap up

Despite being cold and rather strange, February was a satisfying month in my reading life. I finished 11 books, although two were comic books and one was a deluxe edition of a comic. Without those, I finished eight prose books — about average for me, I’d say. Here’s the list:

  1. Fathi, Nazila: The Lonely War (nonfiction)
  2. Vaughn, Brian K. and Harris, Tony: Ex Machina, The Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 (comic book)
  3. Hawkins, Paula: The Girl on the Train (fiction)
  4. Jonathan Luna: Alex + Ada, Vol. 1 (comic book)
  5. Carey, Mike: The Unwritten, Vol. 1 (comic book)
  6. Morris, James McGrath: Eye on the Struggle (biography)
  7. MacLaughlin, Nina: Hammer Head (memoir)
  8. Kondo, Marie: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (nonfiction)
  9. Gawande, Atul: Being Mortal (nonfiction)
  10. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi: Americanah (fiction)
  11. Ferguson, Mark Andrew: The Lost Boys Symphony (fiction)

I don’t think I can pick a favorite nonfiction read for the month. I loved The Lonely WarHammer Head and Being Mortal all pretty equally, but for different reasons. I have reviews planned for Hammer Head and Being Mortal, so look for those in the next few weeks. My favorite fiction read was probably Americanah, although The Lost Boys Symphony came in a close second — look for more on that one near the end of March.

A Look Ahead to March

March is, historically, my least favorite month of the year. I start to get desperate for spring to arrive, which can make me antsy and a little crabby (sorry, boyfriend and family). But I’m trying to look on the upside — if the weather is terrible, I’ll have more excuses to stay inside and read!

My new feature over at Book Riot, recommending nonfiction reads for popular fiction, has me reaching out to a lot of backlist nonfiction to find good pairings. One of my goals is to only recommend books that I’ve read, so I testing out some books for upcoming posts will take up a chunk of my reading this month.

Other than that, there are a ton of great releases coming out in March. A couple that are on my radar are The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff (March 31 from Harper) and That’s Not English by Erin Moore (March 24 from Gotham).

Happy almost spring, everyone! What books are you looking forward to reading this month?

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Currently | Lots of Linking and Blog Building

currently march 1 2015

Briefly | I spent a good chunk of time yesterday doing some behind the scenes blog work, upgrading my current theme, then trying to make the blog do and act like I want it too. This is still a major work in progress, so I hope you’ll forgive the mess for the next few weeks while I keep tweaking.

Time and Place | 7:30 a.m. at my desk, trying to enjoy my fourth weekend bundled up at a home.

Eating and Drinking | My second Whole30 is officially done on Wednesday and I’m really ready to be done. I’m glad I tackled this eating challenge a second time (read about my first here), since it reminded me it’s possible to eat well if you put some effort into it, but I’m just kind of over it at this point.

Reading | I just finished one book this week, The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson (March 24 from Little, Brown). It was delightful and weird and heartfelt, although a little hard to follow because of some of the genre elements that popped up. Overall though, I loved it. Since finishing I’ve been dipping in any out of some nonfiction — The Monopolists by Mary Pilon (secret history of Monopoly!) and Water and What We Know by Karen Babine (essays on water and the ethic of place). I got no reading done yesterday — thanks blog updates — so I’m hoping to settle in for a bit later today.

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Under Construction: Blog Updates In Progress

under construction

Hey everyone! Please pardon the mess around here. I’m in the process of upgrading the design for the blog, so things are going to look a little wonky for awhile. The upgrade should make the site look a lot better on mobile devices (responsive design!), and give me a chance to do some other cleaning up. Fingers crossed things look great by the end of the weekend. Thanks for your patience (and, if you’re reading this in a feed reader or via e-mail, click through to see what’s happening)!

Photo Credit: Stavos via Flickr Creative Commons
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In My Mailbox: February 2015

After being (relatively) responsible with my book purchases in January, I went pretty bonkers with new books this month. I don’t feel guilty about it, exactly, but I do have some concerns about shelf space.

I do, however, have an embarrassing excuse for some of this. My sister and I recently got new credit cards with some airline mile perks to help offset a trip we’re planning this fall. We have to put a certain amount on each card in two months to get our bonus. I thought this would be easy… then discovered my grocery store and pharmacy don’t take American Express! I used this little setback as an excuse to buy a bunch of books — I need them for my miles, right? Yes, I know this is a terrible excuse.

Anyway, on to the books!

february bought books

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